Women’s History Month Series: Patricia D. Kroboth

Issue Date: 
March 12, 2007

For this Pitt dean, a career in pharmacy was the right prescription

Throughout her career, Patricia D. Kroboth has been a role model for many women in pharmacy, so it’s fitting that she benefited from the guidance of a woman—her mother—as she set forth on her career. In particular, Kroboth’s mother insisted that Patricia attend college, something she herself had been unable to do.

“My mother was very forward-thinking in that way,” says Kroboth, who recalls that when she was in high school, some of her female classmates’ parents expressly forbade them to go to college.

In 2004, Kroboth became the first woman dean of Pitt’s School of Pharmacy in its 139-year history. Only 16 other women hold the top administrative position among U.S. pharmacy schools.

And Pitt’s school is a research powerhouse, ranking each year since 2000 in the top 10 among pharmacy schools and colleges based on competitive research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., where she was the valedictorian of her high school class, Kroboth originally intended to study chemistry when she enrolled at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY), but her uncle discouraged her from that field, arguing that her gender would be an obstacle when it came to finding a job.

It was Kroboth’s mother who suggested pharmacy as an alternative major—and who later, after Patricia had begun studying pharmacy but briefly considered switching majors again, urged her to stick with pharmacy.

“My mother said, ‘For heaven’s sake, you can do so many things with pharmacy. You can even teach pharmacy!’ And she was right,” Kroboth says. “Once I was truly immersed in my pharmacy studies, I realized that it was really a wonderful profession.”

When Kroboth was completing her undergraduate education in the early 1970s, women already had begun to gain a foothold in the field. She was one of 20 women in a class of 60 pharmacy students at the University at Buffalo SUNY.
“Now, obviously, the picture is much different,” the dean points out.

Nearly two-thirds of incoming pharmacy students in 2005 were women, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. At Pitt, women filled 69 of the 108 slots in the pharmacy school class that entered in fall 2006

After earning her B.S. degree, Kroboth went directly into a clinical role at the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., where an innovative drug information and learning program she developed landed her a faculty position in the Department of Medicine.

Kroboth accompanied her husband, Frank J. Kroboth III, to Pittsburgh in 1976 when he came here for his internship and residency in general internal medicine at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. Today, he is the George H. Taber Professor of Medicine in Pitt’s School of Medicine.

Just as in the case of her mother’s guidance, relocating to Pittsburgh profoundly affected Kroboth’s career. Prior to moving here, she had never given much thought to pursuing a graduate degree.

However, in Pittsburgh Kroboth was missing out on many of the job opportunities that she found most attractive, simply because she lacked an advanced degree. She enrolled in the Pitt pharmacy school’s M.S. degree program, intending to further her career in hospital pharmacy.

But by the time she earned her M.S. in pharmacy practice in 1980, she had set her sights on academia.

“I started out with the goal of becoming a director of pharmacy at a hospital,” Kroboth says, “but I enjoyed the teaching and research experience I gained at Pitt, so I decided to take a look at academic pharmacy instead.”

Ultimately, Kroboth’s satisfying work as a teaching assistant and her rich experience in clinical research—which coincided with the 1976 outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease—led her to pursue her Ph.D. in pharmacy practice at Pitt; she received the degree in 1983.

“Clinical research changed my vision of what I thought I could do and what I wanted to do,” she recalls.

Kroboth was the lone female doctoral candidate in Pitt’s pharmacy school during the early 1980s. Today, nearly half of all doctoral candidates in pharmacy are women, both nationally and at Pitt. Kroboth and four other women joined the Pitt pharmacy school faculty in 1980. Prior to that year, the school had only one woman faculty member. Today, 42 of the school’s 83 full-time faculty members are women.

Kroboth’s efforts in research and education, specifically in clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, fostered the development in 1984 of Pitt’s Clinical Pharmaceutical Scientist Ph.D. program (one of the first translational research training programs among U.S. schools of pharmacy) and the establishment of the University’s Pharmacodynamic Research Center, which investigates drug response.

Her research focuses on the relationship between concentrations and responses to drugs. Kroboth has evaluated such conditions as age, disease states, and hormone concentrations for their effects on drug sensitivity. Her research has been funded by a number of grants from the NIH, foundations, and pharmaceutical companies.

Hired here as an assistant professor, Kroboth was promoted to full professor in 1995. She chaired the pharmacy school’s Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics from 1988 to 1996, and the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences from 1996 to 2002. Before being named dean, Kroboth served as associate dean for faculty and academic planning (2001-02) and as interim dean (2002-04).

When she was named dean, Arthur S. Levine, Pitt senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the medical school, said: “The field of pharmacy is experiencing a rapid evolution, requiring that the dean of our School of Pharmacy be a person with broad and deep experience in all aspects of pharmacy education, research, and service, and with the vision and intellectual energy to drive the kinetics and contour of this evolution. In Pat Kroboth, we are fortunate to have found just that person.”

Much of Kroboth’s success can be attributed to her clinical experience and natural inclination for leadership, but she also cites the encouragement she received from former Pitt pharmacy school dean Randy Juhl, currently University’s vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance; Randy Smith, currently the pharmacy school’s senior associate dean; and her husband.

“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who have supported my career,” says Kroboth.

But not all female faculty members enjoy such support, the dean recognizes. Serving on a national American College of Clinical Pharmacy programming committee was a particularly eye-opening experience on the gender front. “We were working on the program for the annual meeting, and not a single speaker we identified was a woman,” Kroboth remembers. “But when we began thinking about which women were doing superb work, we identified many for the program. I was sobered by that.

“Periodically,” she adds, “I will look around a meeting table and say ‘Oh, my word, it hasn’t changed that much’” in terms of the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles.

Nonetheless, Kroboth believes that pharmacy is a welcoming profession for women as well as men. “There probably aren’t any gender-related challenges that are unique to pharmacy,” she says. “In fact, women may be even better off in pharmacy than they would be elsewhere, because of the flexibility it offers” in career options and work schedules.

Pitt provides a particularly positive environment for young faculty members, offering mentoring and advising programs to help them advance their careers, says Kroboth. And while such programs aren’t typically aimed solely at helping women, they do present a great opportunity for women, according to the dean.

“I see professional women accomplishing a great deal, but also see many who are hesitant to take appropriate credit for their successes,” the dean says. “We have to change that.”

She also sees a need for more support for young women in setting and maintaining higher career goals, a need that crosses disciplines and affects women of all talent levels.

Kroboth is known for encouraging creativity and flexibility in research as well as in career development. As for her own career, she notes: “I have never followed a typical career path. And I do not regret one career decision I’ve made.”